Worlingworth man who helped wife end her life “disappointed” at rejection of Assisted Dying Bill in Parliament

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

Barrie Sheldon helped his wife Elizabeth prepare for a fatal overdose in 1982, five years after she was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease.

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In total, 330 MPs in the House of Commons yesterday voted against the Assisted Dying Bill, which, if approved, would have allowed two doctors and a family court judge to consider requests from a patient with an expected lifespan of six months or less for an assisted death.

Just 118 MPs voted for the bill.

Mr Sheldon, 83 of Worlingworth, said he was hopeful that the bill would be passed to bring some clarity to the law, and provide some safeguards to a practice that is operating behind closed doors.

Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “We need the law to change to clarify and improve the situation. We have to have safeguards. It’s happening all over the country, friends and relatives are helping people to die but it’s all under wraps and that’s why it’s important to change the law to protect people. At the moment the situation is very murky.”

Elizabeth Sheldon in South Africa in 1979

Elizabeth Sheldon in South Africa in 1979

However, following the falling of the bill, Mr Sheldon said: “I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised.

“I think it’s going to take a few more years.

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“I believe it will be the weight of public opinion that will change the situation.

“I believe that it is such a reality that finally it will come about.”

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A number of MPs took to social media to share how they had voted.

Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey tweeted: “I voted against the #AssistedDying Bill today. I’m pleased Parliament has spoken so authoritatively to support the vulnerable in society”.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said: “A good day for the House of Commons: rigorous debate, pithy speeches, opinions changed through dignified argument, decisive result.”

Mr Sheldon first spoke out on his decision to help his wife take her life on BBC TV programme Newsnight in 2010 and was arrested some weeks later on suspicion of aiding or abetting a suicide. He remained on police bail for over a year before the case against him was dropped.

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

Barrie Sheldon speaks about the assisted dying bill ahead of a debate in Parliament.

Elizabeth Sheldon was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a hereditary degenerative disease which leads to a loss of muscle co-ordination, mental decline and behavioural changes, in the late 1970s.

Her job as a district nurse meant she had witnessed first hand the effects of Huntington’s disease.

Mr Sheldon, a retired water inspector, described the years that followed her diagnosis as a “living nightmare”, and admitted that he had first refused his wife’s requests for help in stockpiling drugs in preparation for her to end her life.

“I stopped her from doing that. I was appalled,” he said. “But after two more years I could see that suicide was her only way out. Had I have been in her position I would have wanted the same thing. It was her wish.”

And so, once they had collected enough drugs, Mr Sheldon left their home in Ruislip, north-west London, for a night to allow Elizabeth to take her own life.

He returned to find her alive and in pain and she was rushed to hospital.

“They were going to try to revive her so I stood over her like a tiger,” he said. “That would only bring her back to this nightmare following her magnificent courage. It was quite an emotional situation.

“It took her four days to die. I lost a stone in weight in those four days.

“It’s really affected my life. Much of what I do is collared by it. That’s what led me to be some sort of spokesperson for dignity in dying and assisted dying.

“She was a very brave, resolute person. She was so brave.

“Thankfully we didn’t have children. It would be an absolutely nightmare to watch my children knowing that every one of them had a 50% certainty of having this disease.”

Mrs Sheldon died in 1982, aged just 51. The couple had been married for 23 years.

Mr Sheldon said: “If your condition is painful and degrading that’s very real. If you know there’s no cure you are doing to die and you are in pain or in a degrading situation then there’s no point in hoping for something that does not exist. With a neurological disease you can live on and on and on.

“It’s important that the law is changed to take account of people with neurological diseases. I want to feel that at least it doesn’t have to go on when people don’t want to go on.

“It’s a question of individual choice. We are talking about people who feel life is intolerable.”

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